Irritable Bowel Syndrome
A condition of the digestive system, irritable bowel syndrome affects the colon or large intestine, causing a change in the bowel movement. Also known as IBS, it is a functional gastrointestinal tract disorder that causes bloating, abdominal cramping, and altered bowel habits. While some people with the disorder may experience diarrhea, others may have constipation. Some others experience both conditions one after the other.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Causes
The condition more commonly affects women than men. Though there are no specific causes of IBS, it is known to develop after episodes of gastroenteritis. It may be caused by food allergies that may cause increased sensitivities of the gut, resulting in digestion problems.
Your intestinal walls are lined with layers of muscles, which relax and contract alternately in a coordinated rhythm when the food travels from the stomach to the rectum through the intestinal tract. Someone with IBS may experience strong and long-lasting contractions, causing bloating, gas, and diarrhea. In some cases, weak intestinal contractions may result, which slow down the passage of food, thus causing hard & dry stools.
People suffering from abnormalities in the gastrointestinal nervous system may experience severe discomfort as their abdomen is filled with gas. The body may overreact to the changes in the digestive process due to poor coordination of signals from the brain to the intestines. As a result, you may experience diarrhea, gas, pain or constipation.
Common triggers include food, stress, hormones, or gastroenteritis. You are at a risk of IBS if you have a family history of the syndrome. The disorder primarily affects young people under 45 years of age, particularly women. The symptoms may start to show up in people as young as 20-30 years of age and may worsen during menstruation for women.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms
The symptoms vary from one person to another. They may affect some people more than others. A person suffering from IBS may experience
- Abdominal pain
- Gas & bloating
- Altered bowel habits
- Abdominal cramping relieved with bowel movement
- Abdominal distention
- Food intolerance
- Passing mucus through rectum
Some people with severe IBS symptoms may also experience sudden weight loss, blood in stools, and abdominal pain or diarrhea that disturbs sleep.
There are no specific tests for IBS and the doctor may request some tests to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms. Such tests may include endoscopy, imaging studies, lab report, small intestinal X-rays, and colonoscopy. The medical history of the patient is also a consideration for diagnosis of IBS.
There is no specific cure for IBS; however, a person with the disorder can learn to manage the symptoms by making lifestyle & dietary changes. Since the condition can be extremely painful, distressing, and debilitating, it may help to
- identify the foods that trigger your symptoms
- increase fiber intake
- become more physically active
- learn to manage stress
Irritable bowel syndrome does not increase your chances of colon cancer, but it does affect your quality of life. It is best to make some lifestyle adjustments to better manage your IBS symptoms.